Controversial Email Came from State Labor Council Assistant, Jeff Johnson

By Josh Feit March 11, 2009

I was finally able to connect with Rep. Mike Sells (D-38, Everett, Marysville), the sponsor of the workers' rights bill that Democratic leadership killed today. The bill would have prevented management from forcing workers to listen to communications about politics, unionizing, or religion. Labor calls it the "Worker Privacy Act," and mostly, it's about preventing management from forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings, known as "captive meetings." 

Democratic leadership, which has been reluctant to pass the bill all session, tabled the bill this morning citing an unethical email from the bill's supporters. (Basically, Democratic leadership is implying big labor made some sort of unethical quid pro quo threat about donations—oh, like withholding money from the House Democratic Campaign Committee PAC, the Truman Fund—if the bill didn't pass.)

Rep. Sells said he's been told by legal staff that he's not allowed to discuss the email. However, he did address a theoretical question I've got on this whole business.

Namely, what could the email—it came from the Washington State Labor Council—possibly have said that pushed it into Rod Blagojevich territory as opposed to run-of-the-mill pressure that advocates use all time that comes with implications about financial support.

Rep. Sells told me  he was wrestling with the same question, and wondered where threats from Boeing about leaving the state, for example, would fit on the ethical meter—and how that was any different. 

Separately, I was able to confirm with sources that the email came from Jeff Johnson, special assistant to Washington State Labor Council President Rick Bender.

Earlier today, Bender issued this statement:

Statement from WSLC President Rick Bender 

The following statement regarding today’s developments surrounding the Worker Privacy Act is from Rick Bender, President of the Washington State Labor Council:

“We regret the incident.  It was a result of frustration with the legislature’s failure to protect workers’ rights in the workplace.  Our job is to always protect workers’ rights.

“We do not believe that any law has been violated and we have no additional comments until we know where this will go.

“Thank you very much.” 

UPDATE: The Seattle Times got a copy of the email, which confirms the little threat scenario I outlined up top. The Seattle Times redacts the sender's name. Again, I've been told it's Jeff Johnson.
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